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One of my most useful souvenirs is from the gift shop at Alcatraz—the notorious, now-closed penitentiary perched on a rocky island off the coast of San Francisco. The utilitarian black coffee mug is printed with these white letters:
YOU ARE ENTITLED TO FOOD, CLOTHING, SHELTER, AND MEDICAL ATTENTION.
ANYTHING ELSE YOU GET IS A PRIVILEGE.
When I used the mug last week, it reminded me of Book²Camp, the “un-conference” I had just attended in New York.
“Book Squared” is an informal, no-cost gathering of writers, book producers and publishers. The group sets the agenda, so any attendee can suggest a topic as long as he or she is willing to lead the discussion.
About halfway through, I heard over the din: “Publishers should give a bill of rights to their authors.”
The speaker was Matt Mullin, Community Relations Manager of Digital Book World. Matt has a unique overview of the industry. He sees how publishers are hurt when an author’s brand “goes out” - that’s an inside term for when an author decides to self-publish.
To combat the impression that “my publisher hasn’t done anything for me,” Matt says publishers should make open declarations such as:
WE PROMISE WE WILL LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES.
WE PROMISE WE WILL TRY NEW THINGS.
WE GUARANTEE WE WILL HAVE SALES REPS PUSH YOUR BOOK TO THE INDIES.
To Matt, a “value add” would be to offer this lagniappe:
I CAN BE YOUR GLOBAL CONCIERGE.
From an author’s perspective, the road to self-publishing is getting easier, but deciding whether to take that route remains difficult. It would be reassuring if traditional publishers offered some guaranteed basics, just as it must have been for prisoners on The Rock.